NFL International Series: Patriots vs Buccaneers

The problem with these flying visits is that they are over all too soon. Barely 24 hours after arriving in London, I found myself sitting on a plane heading back to Aurigny. These short breaks have All the efforts and frustrations of travel, with very little of the experience that makes me love it so much.

I’ve now visited London so many times, particularly in the last few months that the actual experience of visiting London is no longer the excitement. I used to find getting the tube fascinating. The escalators, the rumble of an approaching train and working out the connections. Now I know this all in advance and there is no romance left in the journey. Traveling to Wembley this time was the ultimate example of this. A taxi to the airport, jump on a plane, stop off at the toilet next to Boots (I don’t even have to search for a toilet now). Straight down the steps and onto the Express. Then arrive in Victoria and use the ticket machine and head to Green Park on the Jubilee. The directions now seem as familiar as explaining to a visitor the quickest way to a Town.

But of course on trips like this the journey is not really part of the experience, and the experience itself retains its excitement.

This trip was a little different as I had company in the form of Jeff. Knowing how much he loves football I was almost as excited to witness his first reaction on seeing Wembley as I was to see it myself. He didn’t disappoint, twisting on his seat to try and get a better look as we saw the arch loom into view over the surrounding houses. Arriving at Wembley Park this time was a far different experience. Where were the police? At the Wembley Cup they were out in force lining the station and encouraging everyone to move along and clear the area. Their presence was also felt along my walk to the hotel. But this time the station appeared empty and on the walk to our hotel I certainly didn’t see any police. In fact this reminded me more of seeing the two events in Denver where despite thousands of people lining the streets, police presence was at a minimum and the atmosphere was relaxed.

Walking to the stadium we were surrounded by so many fans, all wearing different team colours. There seemed to be no trouble whatsoever with fans of all teams mingling and looking forward to the match. Occasionally we would hear an American accent. These would be the real die-hards – fans that have travelled thousands of miles at considerable expense to see their team at Wembley. I saw fans in fancy dress – knights in shining armour, pirates and even Captain America heading to the stadium. This felt like more like a carnival then football matches that I have been to. I think part of this is simply because to the majority of people this was not a game that mattered to them. We weren’t here to see our team play and so the result would not be immediately important to us. Instead we were here to celebrate a sport that we all enjoy – this would be theatre and entertainment.

There was another match being played this day, one to which the result would matter a great deal – Liverpool vs Manchester United. As I would be attending the match with a supporter of each, a great deal of importance was placed upon finding a decent place where we could stop and watch the football and then move onto the, er… football. Our match tickets allowed us to enter Wembley early, and we could then get food and drink from the outlets dotted around the concourse. Unlike when I last visited, we would be sitting in the middle tier of the ground along the touchline – otherwise known as the expensive seats. Rather surprisingly, once we entered Wembley there really was not that much to do. The main bar required reservations, and the public bar did not have a television set. The home of English football and you can’t even watch the footy on the TV in the pub. We did find one television, all on its own in the concourse and fairly near our gate. After a quick stop at the bar for a round of £4 lagers we stood to watch the match. The strangeness of Wembleys attitude to the game came to the fore once again. the TV picture was adjusted so that we could not see the score, or the match clock. The volume was also turned to zero. Watching Man Utd vs Liverpool as a neutral is quite an amusing pass time. The match wasn’t too bad, but more amusing was watching the tension mount up. As more time passed the crowd around this solitary television grew larger and larger and with it so did the anti Man Utd sentiment. When Torres scored the roar was defening. It would be very accurate to say that London is not a Utd city. The game ended 2-0 Liverpool, putting one of my companions in a good mood, and another in a foul mood. Guess which of these people I was sharing a hotel room with.

Stopping off for some disgustingly priced food – some fairly nice chips and a completely dried through Cheeseburger in my case – we made our way to our seats. Excellent seats they were as well – front row of the middle tier. We weren’t that close to the action, but having now been to Wembley twice I’ve come to the conclusion that this is just a characteristic of the stadium itself and my being used to the Lane, and the feeling of being practically on the pitch. That an American Football field is narrower then a normal pitch contributed to this as well. The seats were nicely padded. Given the length of an American Football match this would prove to be a blessing.

Wembley when full looks stunning. I already thought this was an attractive stadium when only 3/4 full at the Wembley cup. But Wembley decked out in its finest is a sight to behold. Giant NFL helmet balloons, painted endzones, combined with the myriad of team colours and thousands of red & white Buccaneers flags – one of which had been left on every seat. I had a red flag, but I swapped it for Jeffs white flag. Well a Tottenham boy can’t be seen with red now, can he!

Pre-match entertainment was provided by Calvin Harris. I won’t pretend that I’d heard of him before, and I won’t be seeking out any of his records any time soon. Just not my cup of tea I’m afraid. He got off to a dodgy start as he came out and implored the crowd to ‘rock’. This was done by screaming into his mic and we were treated to the unmistakable sound of a breaking voice. Myself and Simon both shared the same opinion – that didn’t bode well for the singing. The immediately forgettable set was saved by a few treats for the eyes, rather then the ears. First the army marched onto the pitch and unfurled a giant Buccaneers banner. I had to laugh at the thought that these trained professionals were basically playing the ‘parachute’ game, but can’t deny it was an amazing spectacle. We were also treated to Calvin’s backing dancers, the delightful Buccaneers cheerleaders. Finally to top it all we got to witness people desperately trying to remove the huge helmet balloons from the pitch. For some reason rather then carrying them off when inflated, they were partially deflated and dragging along the ground. Combined this all made for a rather wonderful if slightly surreal feast for the eyes.

Of course this being American Football we weren’t quite ready to start yet. First came the spectacular entrance of the players. The Bucs arriving in smoke, fireworks and thumping music. As this was taking place, servicemen & woman carrying alternating American and British flags lined the pitch. We were then treated to a truly stunning rendition of the American national anthem by Toni Braxton. I’d previously heard the anthem sung in Denver at both the baseball and the football. But this rendition was perfect. Topped off by supporters at each end of the ground holding coloured card to create giant British and American flags. The American anthem was followed by the God Save the Queen as performed by Katherine Jenkins it was certainly a good performance, but boy had she been given a tough act to follow!

Still the build up continued as the honorary team captains were introduced. First “one of Britians best loved entertainers” was met with warm if slightly bemused applause as we realised the announcer was referring to Vernon Kaye. The other captain, unsurprisingly, was rather more warmly and enthusiastically welcomed. Well you don’t want to piss off the great Joe Calzaghe do you?

Finally we could begin. Wave your flags and make some noise we were encouraged. This we did willingly and so into our flag waving were we that we completely missed the kick-off.

Any hopes for a close contest were quickly extinguished. The Patriots picking off the opening pass and returning it for a touchdown within the first three minutes. That was as close the Bucs would get the entire match. The Pats looked a different class which given the form that they and Tom Brady have been in recently, did not come as a shock. They still lost to the Broncos though. The Bucs did put up a good fight, picking up a few interceptions and one fantastic touchdown.

The biggest problem was that Brady just looked different class. When the Bucs tried their passing game the QB Johnson seemed to have zero time before the defense was on him. Brady on the other hand seemed to have all the time in the world. I saw an interview after the match in which Johnson stated that he put himself under pressure by always looking for the big play, and that he’d learn from this. I hope he does because he never seemed to recover from the opening interception, whereas Brady just shrugged his off.

So the game itself wasn’t too close ending with a 35 – 7 win for the Pats. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable time. A great friendly atmosphere and the crowd getting behind the underdogs at times, but always applauding plays from both sides. It didn’t quite match the experience of seeing the Broncos in Denver, but then I never expected it to. I do know that I hope to be able to make it to next years game or another game in the states.

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